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The Wider Angle 8-27-07
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The Wider Angle: Ruminations of a hardcore cineast
 
by Celluloid Dreams correspondent Ken Karn
 

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Monday, August 27, 2007

"Superbad"

August is known as the time when the studios release films for which they have modest (or low) expectations at the box office.  As a result, movies that would never make a splash during the rest of the year can emerge as the champ in the dog days of Summer.  This August is no exception as the #1 film in theaters for 2 weeks running is... Superbad.

Superbad is not the first low budget, low brow teen comedy to earn that distinction.  It’s the little movie that could, made against all studio principles (R rating but aimed at teens, no stars or known actors) and one more piece of evidence in the case for Judd Apatow (the producer) as genius.  There’s a huge outpouring of public and media driven buzz about Superbad being an iconic comedy for the current generation of teens.  It is being mentioned in the same conversation as American Graffiti, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Dazed and Confused as one of the great coming of age tales.  The problem is: Superbad is not that great.

I credit a lot of the hoopla over Superbad to its timing, coming out a few months after Apatow’s Knocked Up (a far superior comedy).  Apatow and his merry band of funny guys are on quite a roll with the box office success of their last 4 films in 2 years.  Some have even met with critical approval (including Superbad).  Apatow has become a brand name, the media loves him, and his comedies are regarded as a cut above the usual studio laffers.  Superbad has simply been swept up in Apatowmania.

Superbad is not a bad movie.  In fact, it’s pretty good for what it’s trying to do.  It effectively captures the insecurities and fears of the male species as he approaches manhood.  It has a good heart and a fun sense of humor.  The gags are not particularly original, but they are executed decently.  The dénouement (if teen comedies can have one) is not completely telegraphed and works with the spirit of the rest of the story.  The acting is particularly good (McLovin being my fave) and the whole male bonding theme adds a small amount of depth in a genre known (and appreciated) for its complete lack of seriousness.

Unfortunately, Superbad is being tagged as a cutting edge and wildly profane when it’s actually pretty tame and by-the-numbers.  It travels the well worn path of horny teens on a quest for booze and pussy that’s been around since Adam was 16 years old and asked God for the car keys.  The R rating is exclusively for language that, while often expletive filled and ladened with sexual explicitness, is far from shocking.  None of the characters are severely weird or twisted.  The situations that our heroes find themselves in are never anything more than unusually whacky, and the overall tone is so benign that we know nothing horrible will take place.

The best coming of age comedies really capture a time and place.  Superbad does neither. It seems to dwell in a netherworld somewhere between suburbia in the 70’s and TV sitcomland.  The boys must be from our current times because they have easy access to internet porn, but otherwise they could have come from any era since the 60’s.

My biggest gripe with Superbad is the manner in which it handles the female characters.  Why did the filmmakers have to make them SO nice and understanding?  The girl Seth lusts over is not only stunningly hot, she doesn’t drink, she’s extremely sweet (and we thought it was just to get the booze from Seth) and totally free of the insecurities and life fear that plague 100% of other kids her age.  Evan’s babe gets drunk and horny, just like he wants, but it takes a gastrointestinal disturbance to give him a graceful exit at crunch time.  And what’s worse? We never even get to see their tits.  It’s simply lazy writing to completely ignore the girls in this story, even if they are only to show the guys that they really love each other.

Superbad had the chance to be something special.  We are being led to believe it’s special.  If we compare it to the other comedies out at the moment...or even in the last year, it’s pretty good.  But Apatow has the chops to push up against the envelope of comedy on screen.  Is it too much to ask for Apatow to take it up another notch?  Not go to 11, but a solid 8 would be nice.

I don’t expect time to be all that kind to Superbad.  There are no memorable gags a la Animal House, no dialogue that you and your friends can recite when you’re finishing the keg at the dorm, nothing that will grab you in a few years and insist you must rent Superbad that night.  It’s just a decently funny little movie that rose to the top of the box office for 2 weeks in August of 2007.

©2007 Ken Karn/Celluloid Dreams

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of Ken Karn, and do not necessarily reflect those of Celluloid Dreams staff or other contributors.

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Respond to this column! Email Ken: ken@celluloiddreams.net.  Your message and/or Ken's response may appear on this page. You've been warned.

ALL COLUMNS
 
1-26-08 "Oscar Films to See, Films to Wait for DVD"
 
12-20-07 "What's Up With the Weird Holiday Movies?"
 
10-30-07 "The Overstuffed Cinema Buffet"
 
8-27-07 "Superbad"
 
7-7-07 "Oh, the horror... the horror..."
 
6-19-07 Ruminations on the Movie-going Experience
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